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Lithium Batteries - time to rethink?
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2013-01-31 at 11:21:08 PM GMT
Posts: 31
Lithium Batteries - time to rethink?

Your lead acid batteries have been around in one form or another since 1859 - time for a change?  Your sails are probably not made of canvas.

 It has been two years since we upgraded Namo's electrical system to a  640 amp hour Lithium LiFePO4 house bank in place of the Trojan AGMs that had had a disappointingly short life.  The conventional wisdom on installing Lithium batteries is don't - wait until they become cheaper, safer and are compatible with the installed charging systems.  Our experience suggests it is time to challenge this.

 Why did we go with Lithium: 

  1. We had a problem with our new boat - not enough capacity.  It came equipped with a house bank consisting of four AGM golf cart batteries as the builder was a fairly traditional fellow who perhaps did not anticipate the demand of hairdryers, toasters, multiple screen chart plotter, fridge, freezer etc.  We could have allocated more space to lead/acid batteries but this had its own problems.  With Lithium we could more than double the usable energy in the same space, giving us the equivalent of a 1,000+ amp hour lead/acid bank.  This is due to their higher energy density and that they can be drawn down to 20% of charge and easily charged to 100%.  With lead acid batteries  it is more likely to be 50% discharge and according to Nigel Calder cruising boat batteries often do not get above 80%.
  2. Lithium is extremely efficient  - you can draw 3C (three times capacity) in current or close to 2,000 amps out of the batteries or charge them at the same rate (if you have a 2,000 amp alternator).  There is no absorption charge phase - the batteries pull max current until they are nearly charged. 
  3. The cost of Lithium batteries has come down due to the demand for electric cars - you can buy these batteries almost as commodity items.
  4. The life of lead acid in measured in tens or hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, with lithium it is measured in thousands of cycles.
  5. I heard Niger Calder speak at a boat show  in which he advised that lithium may be more economical than lead acid when you take into account their higher cycle life and lower cost in diesel to recharge them due to their higher charge acceptance.
  6. No special ventilation required.

We are very happy with the batteries so far.  The Balmar smart regulator, Blue Sky solar controllers and Mastervolt Combi charger all work well with them.  With a little careful tuning of these devices, we have avoided installing expensive proprietary battery management products.  The batteries remain cold when charged and discharged.

Are they for you?  Maybe if you want to invest the time to understand how to manage them and willing to accept that you are taking a road less traveled with its attendant pleasures and risks.  

Happy to provide further details if you are interested.

 Ian



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Last edited January 31, 2013
2013-04-14 at 5:52:35 PM GMT
Posts: 29
The burning question
One small detail you forgot to mention, the cost for lithium.  I am on my 11th year with my current  5 x 4D gel batteries (approx. 900 Amphrs) and they are still doing well. Treat them like they should be treated and they will last.  Why should I pay more for less life (AGM's) .  I'll wait until Lithium is proven before  I give my money away.


2013-04-28 at 4:19:13 PM GMT
Posts: 2
Lithium consideration
Very interested in your experience as I am considering the same system.  Did you go with the expensive Mastervolt with the built in battery management or with one of the less expensive alternatives?


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